The grave injustice suffered by Western gamers in the mid-90s was the complete absence of a slew of ground breaking JRPGs that were released for the Super Famicom. Before you start to think that these must have been little-known affairs by small-time publishers, you may be surprised to hear that many of the games that never found their way to Western shores were developed by SquareSoft.
Most of these games will eventually be covered in this column, but for now let’s talk now about probably one of the better known missing 16-bit gems from the Super Famicom catalog: Bahamut Lagoon.
Released in 1996, it’s easy to see why this game was never localized for a Western release. The PlayStation was already upon us and the Nintendo 64 was just around the corner. SquareSoft was also about to jump ship from Nintendo to Sony, so there was no reason to spend the time and money localizing a game like this for a Western release.
More iridescent filters! MOAR!!
It’s a shame, because not only is Bahamut Lagoon a great strategy RPG, it’s also one of the finest looking releases on the Super Famicom. Aside from top-notch sprite art, the visuals are tinged with an iridescent filter that adds an otherworldly air to the world of Bahamut Lagoon.
The many dragon designs are all intricately detailed and painterly in their execution. The game also makes heavy use of Mode 7 effects. Earlier games in the SNES life cycle used Mode-7 to varying degrees of success. However, this late in the game, Square has learned how to make them work in favor of the visuals, instead of just seeming like a gimmick.
The setting also helps the game stand out from the typical fantasy backdrop of most other RPGs of the time by taking place on a series of floating islands in an endless sky. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to explore this sky world on your own, but the backgrounds to battles and many of the cutscenes are absolutely breathtaking.
You know what would improve this scene? Iridescence!
The story follows typical Strategy RPG traits, such as warring kingdoms, betrayals, and plot twists galore. While these may be typical tropes for this kind of genre, the story becomes much more personal as it goes along. In fact, the player character, Byuu, isn’t even the main character, and it becomes much more about the surrounding cast in the end.
Battles take place in the typical isometric style of strategy RPGs with troops moving along a grid on the battlefield. However, when enemy units engage with your team of characters, the perspective shifts. In these moments, the game comes to resemble a typical turn-based RPG. The combination of these two styles keeps the gameplay interesting and engaging.
Batlles play out in a mix of isometric tactics and classic turn-based menu style
Well before Pokemon came along and had us evolving creatures, Bahamut Lagoon allowed for customization of each of the dragons featured in the game. You can feed a variety of foods and other items to your friendly dragon partners to level up their stats.
After enough time, the dragons will transform into other forms based on what they were fed and which stats were boosted. The dragon’s stats will also affect the party’s stats as well.
Not enough iridescence, if you ask me
Bahamut Lagoon has only ever been released in Japan. The original Super Famicom release can be found rather easily through an eBay search. Prices range between 20-30 USD. Catridge only can be had for less than 10 USD. The game was also released on the Wii Virtual Console in 2009 and the WiiU Virtual Console in 2014. Naturally, these releases were only for the Japanese regions.
If you’re down for some emulation, then you can find English translation patches for your SNES emulator of choice. Whatever way you choose to play, if you’re into strategy RPGs or just beautiful looking 16-bit games, Bahamut Lagoon is definitely worth checking out.